Landlord and Tenant Law

Landlord Tenant Law

What Is A Lease?

A lease is a legal agreement between a landlord and tenant. It usually sets out the amount of rent that must be paid and the length of time the apartment or other property may be rented. It also states the rights and duties of both parties.

Does The Lease Have To Be In Writing To Be Legal?

No. The lease may be oral, especially if it is for a short period of time. However, there are some circumstances in which a written lease is required by law. NOTE: A written lease is always preferable to an oral lease. Some terms of a residential lease (for example, an apartment lease) are generally required by law, such as any late-fee penalty, and must be set forth in the lease. NOTE: If you live in an apartment where the federal government is paying a portion of your rent, you may have additional protections available to you under federal law.

What Should I Consider Before Signing A Lease?

  • Make sure you read and understand all of the clauses before signing it;
  • Never sign a lease unless all blank spaces are filled in or crossed out;
  • Get all oral promises IN WRITING;
  • Make sure both parties initial changes or additions to the lease on all copies; and
  • Become familiar with landlord-tenant laws and be alert for illegal clauses inserted by the landlord.

What Is A Security Deposit, And Is It Mandatory?

Generally, landlords have the right to protect themselves against tenant damage to the premises by asking for a security deposit. The security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent and is paid to the landlord before the tenant moves in. If the tenant damages the property, or if the tenant fails to pay the rent, the landlord may generally keep all or a part of the deposit to pay for the damage or unpaid rent. State law may limit the amount that the landlord can demand as a security deposit (a security deposit usually may not exceed an amount equal to┬áthree (3)┬ámonth’s rent), require that the landlord provide itemized accountings relating to the use of the deposit, and require a refund of any unused deposit within 30 days after the tenancy ends.

Can The Landlord Keep My Security Deposit If The Damage Already Existed?

No, but before you move in you should make a detailed list of all of the existing damage (and photograph it) and give a copy of the list and photos to the landlord. When you are ready to move out, inspect the apartment again and make a list of any damages. Submit the list to the landlord, and if there are no new damages, the landlord should return your money. If there is a dispute, you have the right to sue for the return of your deposit.

Am I Entitled To Receipts For My Security Deposit And Rental Payments?

Yes. Under most states’ laws, the landlord must, upon request by the tenant, provide a signed receipt for a security deposit and other tenant payments, including rent. You may refuse to pay rent until the landlord provides the requested receipt. NOTE: You should also request a receipt when you pay any money to your landlord.

Is The Landlord Responsible For The Upkeep Of And Repairs To My Apartment?

Under law, the landlord is generally required to maintain your dwelling unit in a “habitable” condition. For example, the landlord must ensure that your roof does not leak, that your plumbing works, that you have working heating facilities in your unit, and that you have working electrical lighting. NOTE: You will likely be responsible under the lease for payment of the electrical bills. If the landlord is required to make repairs, you should notify him, in writing and by certified mail, of any necessary repairs.

Can The Landlord Raise My Rent Whenever He Or She Wants?

For the most part, landlords cannot raise the rent during the term of the lease. For example, if you have signed a one-year lease, your rent generally cannot be raised for one year. After that period, the landlord has the right to increase the rent, but must give you notice. Some areas have rent control laws that limit how much existing rents may be raised.

Does The Landlord Have The Right To Enter My Apartment Whenever He Wants To?

A landlord generally has the right to peaceably enter your apartment for reasonable purposes. Unless it is an emergency, however, the landlord should give you 24 hours notice before he enters your apartment, and then may enter only at reasonable times during normal business hours (unless you agree to something else).

What Should I Do If I Want to Leave Before My Lease Expires?

You should give the landlord adequate notice in writing, sent by certified mail. If you need to move before the lease expires, talk it over with your landlord to see if it is acceptable. You may also check to see if you have the option to sublet the apartment or assign the lease. The landlord, regardless, must make reasonable efforts to rent the apartment to another tenant. Even if you provide written notice to your landlord, you may be responsible to the landlord for the rent due for the remaining lease term if the landlord is unable to rent the apartment to another tenant after you vacate the apartment.

What Can I Do If I Believe The Landlord Is Not Living Up To The Terms Of The Lease?

Most states’ laws are fairly specific in stating what you can do if you believe the landlord is not complying with the lease terms. Your remedies depend upon what the landlord is doing (or not doing) which you believe is improper. Your primary remedy is to provide written notice to the landlord specifying the acts (or failures to act) which you believe constitute a breach of the rental agreement and to notify the landlord that the lease will terminate if the breach is not remedied. The landlord then generally has 14 days in which to remedy his breach.

You may also complain to appropriate government agencies. You should not, however, refuse to pay your rent when you believe the landlord has breached the lease, unless the landlord’s breach is so egregious (for example failing to repair a leaky roof or provide heat or water to your unit) that it forces you to vacate your dwelling unit (this is termed a “CONSTRUCTIVE EVICTION”). Even then, however, you must provide written notice to the landlord and give the landlord an opportunity to remedy the problem before you take any action.

Can My Landlord Evict Me Because Of The Complaints I Have Made Against Him?

No. This is termed a “RETALIATORY EVICTION” and is illegal in most states.